The literary Romantic Period was rife with advances in the technological and scientific sectors. On the tail end of the Enlightenment era which ushered in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the world had become an ever-changing place with the beginnings of the profession that we today call engineering and numerous advances in astronomy and mathematics (Bunch and Hellemans 233). A common theme of W. Wordsworth was that these changes were both harmful to the human nature and alienating to the “common man. ”
In order to truly investigate the views of Wordsworth, one must first understand the context of the time period, and in order to do that we must first look to the Enlightenment era and the changes in thinking that it brought about. What is known as the Enlightenment signifies the promotion of rational thinking in the eighteenth century; thinking that endorsed culture and reason, rather than nature or religion, as the grounds for solving problems and conflicts…. Wordsworth struggled with these ideas because he believed that one could only learn what it means to be human through a relationship with nature. Mason 24) This excerpt from The Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth combined with his works “The World is Too Much with Us” and “Lines Written in Early Spring” makes it very simple to see that Wordsworth was very much against the pursuit of science and technology, and believed it to be incredibly harmful to the human race. Wordsworth was a man who felt that human nature was much more spiritual than the scientific authors of the Enlightenment Age, and as such rejected the idea that life should be spent pursuing logic and reason and instead that nature and relative chaos held the key to what defines humanity.
This is particularly evident in “Lines Written in Early Spring”, with its melancholic overtones lamenting “What man has made of man” (Wordsworth 280). Within the poem, he finds himself looking over nature’s beauty and its links to his own human soul, but instead of being able to feel at ease, he instead feels sorrow that many people are ignorant of this feeling. At no point in “Lines Written in Early Spring” does Wordsworth directly or indirectly mention technology, science, or anything related directly to logic or reasoning, so instead we must look to his notes in the preface from he 1802 version of Lyrical Ballads in order to glean the proper context needed to connect the two. Throughout the preface, Wordsworth makes indirect reference to the Enlightenment era works, and contrasts his own works against them, pointing out his intentions to stir emotions within the reader. He also alludes to his work holding more purpose than the work of many of his contemporaries and predecessors, which would include the writings on logic, reasoning, science, and technology that came from the Enlightenment era.
Both of these points together can lead us to believe that anytime Wordsworth is referencing the nature of man, he is providing his ideas as an antithesis to the ideas of the Enlightenment authors (Wordsworth 293-304). In the final two lines of “Lines Written in Early Spring”, Wordsworth asks the reader “Have I not reason to lament/What man has made of man? ” (Wordsworth 280). In some ways this is a rhetorical question, not meant for an answer, but it actually has a hidden question that is answered by the interpretation of the poem, “what has man made of man? ” (Wordsworth 280).
Ready interprets the poem and the answer as, “Just as we have become disconnected from external nature, we have become alien to the human nature that should connect us to our kind” (225), but it is my belief that the phrase perhaps goes even deeper than this. The unspoken question is actually asked to require the audience to think about the cost of our newfound love of industrial progression. Wordsworth does not necessarily feel as though people are ignorant for being infatuated with the new virtues of science and logic, but instead is unable to come to terms with the cost of these new ideas.
He feels it is ignoble and perhaps even foolhardy to give up our human soul in exchange for what he probably views as worldly trinkets and pointless frivolity. Moving forward just a few years in Wordsworth’s career, we reach the second poem that I feel embodies my argument “The World is Too Much with Us”. Published in 1807, and again in 1815, the poem takes on a different tone, perhaps more angry at humanity for what it has done to Nature. Wordsworth is lamenting about society’s need and greed for money and things. He was not the first poet or author to lament man’s disrespect for nature.
William Wordsworth the great lover of nature opposes gross materialism in this poem. The industrial age was bringing in steam locomotives, machines and factories and Wordsworth’s world was facing the crisis of Industrial Revolution. (Jain and Phil 29) In agreement with Jain and Phil, I too feel that Wordsworth is lamenting man’s disrespect for Nature through the use of technology. There is reason to believe that the narrator from “Lines Written in Early Spring” and “The World is Too Much with Us” is the same person at different points in life.
Whether Wordsworth himself ever realized this is a point of contention, but there are many parallels between the two poems that help us to paint a vivid picture of Wordsworth’s views on what was happening within the world. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” (Wordsworth 347) is in many ways the most important line of the poem when relating it to Wordsworth’s views of society at the time. It shows contempt for man and his machines and how they are transforming the world in which we live.
Looking back to when the narrator was a few years younger in “Lines in Early Spring”, we can draw a parallel between the link that the young man felt with nature and the resulting development of his humanism and the anger at which this poem approaches the subject. The young man who was speaking earlier in life looks around him and instead of seeing “primrose tufts”, “birds around”, and “budding twigs”, he sees factories, machines, and men who he considers to know nothing of the truth of humanity. “Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! (Wordsworth 347) conveys the man’s sorrow for what we once had. He had seen and felt the beauty of nature within his human soul once upon an early spring, and now he can no longer feel that due to the monstrosities that man had created. Indeed, he feels as though we have committed a sacrilege in trading our souls, the element that bound us to Nature, for worldly possessions and the promise of a more fulfilling life through mankind. The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God!… (Wordsworth 347) The narrator becomes more distraught, brooding over what we can no longer feel. He feels alone in this world, as though he is the only person who has ever felt or seen these things. The final line of this section, “It moves us not. – Great God! ” represents shock and awe at his realization that even these grandiose parts of nature can no longer rouse the human soul from its slumber, and as such, he feels as though humanity is lost in its own hubris. The final section of the poem denotes a feeling of resentment, and a resounding feeling of a separation from the rest of humanity. I’d rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. (Wordsworth 347) The narrator comes to the realization that humanity has fully rejected the ways of old, and that even if he is regarded as a Pagan or “old-fashioned” that he has realized the truth of humanity. Until mankind relearns this truth there is little he can do, and he is alone in this world.
He rejects the idea that he needs any of the possessions promised by this new age, this Industrial Revolution, and instead he is more content watching the sea and allowing what he regards as the human nature to be his only companion. W. Wordsworth, as part of the Romantic Movement within British literature, was himself in many ways the antithesis to Enlightenment writings that spurred the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. He repeatedly rejected the teachings of many of his contemporaries and predecessors, only wishing to commune with his own humanity through nature.
The intent of these poems, whether realized consciously by Wordsworth or not, was to attempt to convert people to what can almost be described in modern terms as a holistic religious creed. He felt that the only hope for the salvation of mankind was to reject the recent teachings of science and the reliance on technology and instead to return to the more spiritual ways of communicating with nature. ? Works Cited Bunch, Bryan H. , and Alexander Hellemans. History Of Science And Technology : A Browser’s Guide To The Great Discoveries, Inventions, And The People Who Made Them, From The Dawn Of Time To Today. . p. : Houghton Mifflin, 2004. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 4 Oct. 2012. Jain, Asha, MA, and M. Phil. “Materialism and Ecological Views of Wordsworth. ” Language in India: Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow 12. 7 (2012): 28-34. Gale CENGAGE Learning: Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Oct. 2012. Mason, Emma. Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth. n. p. : Cambridge University Press, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 4 Oct. 2012. Ready, Robert. “Lines Written in Wordsworth. ” Modern Language Studies 15. 4 (1985): 225-231.
JSTOR. Web. 4 Oct. 2012. Wordsworth, William. “Lines Written in Early Spring. ” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: W. W. Norton ; Company, 2012. 280. Print. —. “From Preface to Lyrical Ballads, with Pastoral and other Poems (1802)”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 293-304. Print. —. “The World is Too Much with Us”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 347. Print.